The Politics of Science On a Dying Planet

A disclaiming preface: For the record I am in no way a Fundamentalist. So please do not connote the following essay with like, say, the wacky religious semantics of Baron von der Ropp or whatever. In other words, don’t’ misinterpret the following essay as: “too much science” leads to “intellectual shallowness” or something along those lines. I am by no means attempting to intellectually criticize while being anti-intellectual. Also, to prevent the typical aspersions from being casted my way I am not: a creationist (I believe in evolution– it’s real, you’re pretty bonkers to think all this life just popped up like 10,000 years ago…), just ‘cause I’ve decided to write a diatribe against science doesn’t mean I doubt the said method-of-inquiry’s ability to ascertain reliable knowledge and stuff; nor am I a fascist (or a Nazi for that matter… [seriously, someone once called me this for bashing science, wtf {!?}]); … and so on. So here we go.

I’ve got an abstract (maybe a bit platitudinous and overworked too, but still and all…) aphorism for you: Science is the priesthood of industry worshipping the god of production in the house of economics. Always remember that. We could debate back and forth for days, perhaps even years, over whether or not science is a fundamentally good thing or not. It may create cool things and cool effects, but calculating the goodness of it requires a-whole-nother system of review.

Let’s not kid one another. Science, like religion, is a manifestation of the dominant culture at large. On one hand it’s another run-of-the-mill agent of socialization, one that seeks to conflate the powers to command and control with Truth; moreover, any door to a particular truth that science claims to open up, in turn, shuts the door to other truths, as philosopher, author and environmentalist, Derrick Jensen, apprised me of when dialoguing with him a while back.

The wrongdoing that science is guilty of is manifold. Sure, for some, this incrimination may be too ostentatious and flamboyant to be taken seriously, maybe even offensive for some others, but beneath science’s veneer of “progress” and “advancement” the allegation is sensibly legit. Need I not mention the word “Gulf” (?)

And so anyhow, ask yourself -– is not science something that emerges from a specific cultural context? And is not mathematics (which is required in order to practice scientific ritual) just a set of symbols that has arisen from that particular cultural context, affecting the ways of living it arises from? Are not symbols anything more than a notional reality intended to momentarily substitute physical reality –all of this only giving meaning to the cultural context from which it all arises? Beyond the confines of culture these practices and methods dissolve into myths, myths that don’t tell truths inasmuch as they just produce effects. Effects that serve a utilitarian purpose for the very culture, and, more specifically -– polity, from which they emerge. Think about it.

Moreover, the galvanizing forces of science are comprised mostly of theory not concrete fact (which is rhetorical phrasing in, and of, itself), and theories are always subject to change. Always. And so the rhetoric that shapes theoretical validity often shapes the way particular theories are interpreted, perceived, applied, etc. So, OK, let’s run with a really arcane example here. There’s the 2nd law of thermodynamics with its theoretical axioms of ordering, metabolic rates, entropy and so on…

Now, I’ve done my reading up on the myth that the arrow of time is putatively dependent on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (you know the law, I know the law, so there’s no need to explain it in full detail [and if you’re not well apprised of 2LTD (= 2nd Law of ThermoD) you can always Wikipedia it these days…]). At any rate it’s been confirmed that the “science of complexity” (with a broader purview than chaos theory) has demonstrated that not all systems move toward disorder, to paraphrase scientist Roger Lewin. And most importantly, only isolated closed systems – in which no exchanges with environment are allowed – exhibit the 2nd Law’s irreversible trend. Not open systems. And I would maintain that the universal world and its material-members (viz. biomes, life-forms, matter-w/-potential-to-be-sentient [to get all Alan-Wattsian/Vedantic on you], etc. & c. that constitute the miraculous matrix of organic processes and symbiotic relationships synecdochically known as the “web-of-life”) that constitute our physical reality, here and now, are open systems not closed systems, if we want to use the whole “systems” rhetoric.

As regards the universe, I don’t know whether or not it’s open or closed. No one truly does. We really have no clue whether or not the total entropy of the universe is increasing, decreasing, remaining stationary, or forming the shape of an asshole ready to shit out more galaxies, to phrase it figuratively. (And yes, I fully comprehend that if you put into numerical mathematical expression, the metabolic rate at which complexity refines and perpetuates itself or whatever, and plot those numbered progressions in circular fashion, you end up with a spiral, like e.g. a conch shell, expanding outwards, moving farther out while still in a familiar rotational pattern, maybe picking up a little speed with each successive orbit… neat… I guess [and even neater to think about under the influence of some certain substances…]. But and so, good job for abstracting such a thing, but has anyone really experienced this? Has anyone empirical evidence of this (acid trips don’t count btw)? Didn’t think so. So, in a slightly more-than-slight sorta way, to resolutely put one’s faith into the stories of science is extremely close to being as silly as resolutely putting all one’s faith into the stories “handed” down by a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent (which is a crock of bull – I looked everywhere for God in my jar of peanut-butter this morning and no dice) patriarchal sky God or of those stories pertaining to a revenant Christ who will restore a sacred “moral” (totalitarian) Kingdom [according to the deluded fucking-nuts power fantasies of Doug Coe et al.]).

But and so, as you can clearly see, interpretation of even some of the most complex theories are often hinged on semantics-w/-an-agenda, borne in upon skewed perception; i.e., perspective (which is shaped by culturally-endorsed stories, principles, concepts, etc.) applied to define and explicate phenomena. Even time, whether used as a constant or variable, is still an undefined quality of physics: “We can’t say it is ‘now’ in the universe, there’s absolutely no fixed interval that is independent of the system to which it refers,” avers scholar and professor, John Zerzan.

[And reasons behind results of the scientific method, like the colors-of-things, are not intrinsic to the real world but simply a matter of perception: hinged more on qualia than on physical reality -– qualia having to do with the direct experience of a quality or property.]

In the end, even these abstruse physical theories are completely characterized by subjective understandings of, and reactions to, semantics and rhetoric that are applied to convey abstraction -– not physical reality, for a specific end-goal, one which is, more often than not, politically structured.

So science is always dictated by rhetorical phrasings as mere desperate attempts to understand and substantiate, concretely, the perceived effects of matter reacting with energy. And, of course, the desperation to understand all this is facilitated by a cultural desire to control, which is pretty sociopathic -– the whole wanting-to-control thing… Not to mention, forcing an entire planet to conform to abstraction is indeed behind most of the planetary mess that exists today. ((E.g.: requisite industrial production to meet the demands of particular economic theory; q.v. “Against Prometheus: An Interview With Derrick Jensen.” (Too, I could go off on a tangent about Ayn Rand and her despicable objectivism, but let’s just leave it at this: Mother of Objectivism battled depression and an amphetamine addiction her whole life.)))

If we pause and reflect on what, exactly, science (and it’s requisite mathematics) has done to/for the world, we end up with depressing analysis: Defective oil wells killing marine life and destructively suffusing wetlands with deadly petrol chemical clouds; in the US every single mother’s breast milk is tainted with dioxin. Yet, 2.2 billion lbs. of pesticides are produced and used each year by Americans alone; every single river, brook and stream is fouled with carcinogenic material; 14,000 people die bi-weekly from preventable cancers. At one time people were once able to drink straight from the now sullied bodies of fresh water. Are we not ashamed? We placate our fears and guilt with hollow misleading economic progress indicators and casuistic claims to longer lives; with innovation frivolously miscegenating with college education, but the truth is, we are only one out of millions of beings, alive, sharing this only planet as home. It’s absurd to continue living as if human beings are the only species that matters, that civilization is the only sane way to live, and that science is the ultimate and supreme and putatively infallible method of inquiry. When, in fact, this is all rather an insane way of living. Apparently.

It’s true that, in essence, we are all just energy in meta-stable state. But we are also subjective social beings with real emotions, with agency and willful volition, whose actions and interactions have repercussions that pervade the world we inhabit. To deny this is either ignorant or pathological or perhaps both.

Truth be told, none of us need to understand math or, say, e.g. neuroscience to know that it is wrong to befoul and/or destroy one’s Place. (((Duh.))) Nor do any of us need to learn how to apply propositional calculus to rhetorical phrasings for utmost persuasive logic to stop this culture from e.g. erasing the mountainous climes of Appalachia forever with ammonium nitrate mixtures so to power microwaves and television sets via burning powdered bituminous. And all the while college bio-students are taught the Hardy Weinberg equation (p2+2pq+q2=1) to discern particular allele frequencies to determine whether or not evolution is occurring in a given population, 120+ species go extinct each day. And we definitely don’t need conservation biology to protect the remaining intact landbases (although, at this point it sure as hell doesn’t hurt, so go nuts).

All it really takes is an active and defensive stand against the entire Megamachine. Deep down we all know this in our hearts. And it pains us to know this, to admit this, so we repress it -– continue weeding the garden, so to say. Business as usual. We continue with our classes, our jobs, ignoring, denying, repressing what we already know and hoping that there are better employment or cash rewards and a fortuitous fix for us at the other end. All responsibility jettisoned onto the Icarus — wings of hope.

And so speaking of that slippery bugger known as Hope, science has fomented a precarious hope that despoils all agency and responsibility intrinsic to being a human being. People tend to rely on science to fix the problems that science “discovers” (or rather, creates) do they not? Here we are, on a tiny planet whose fragile ecological infrastructure is being systematically destroyed through extractive industries and latter’s instruments and expedients and their byproducts, all born from the progenitor that is science — or rather, Science™. Instead of taking the responsibility to clean up the mess this culture has created of the only known planet that supports complex life, most are delegating that appointment to science and technology — both of which requires a growth economy, fossil fuels and extractive industries et al. in order to maintain, let alone advance. There is much illogic embedded in the latter system. (And let’s not forget how much profit and power such a system generates for a privileged few, btw.)

Too, science is far from democratic. Fragmented into specialized interests, its atomization of the world’s information is handled hermetically within exclusive spheres of academia and intellect. The generalist is often castigated as too subjective or whatever; the critic either too spiritual or superstitious or, conversely, an unscrupulous picaroon (i.e. a F’n-nutcase-gone-bananas); the disbeliever too stupid and so on. There is much more I could expatiate on, but for the sake of time and word limits, let’s jump a track or two and discuss the science of “race.”

The idea of biological race is a social construct, a societal organizing principle fabricated in order to confer power and privilege on one group through the disenfranchisement, oppression and exploitation of another group. The notion of racial superiority has been around just about as long as civilization has been around (another great reason to replace civilization with a saner way of being in the world). The idea of race was “scientifically” used to erroneously and egregiously justify slavery (which says a lot about justice) — an institution that has been behind civil engineering since day one and, is still extant today (there are more slaves today than traversed the Middle Passage, btw).

“[David] Hume allowed that Black people might be able to develop certain attributes of human beings in much the same way that a parrot picks up a few words.” ((wtf ))

Thomas Jefferson posited about Blacks in his day: “Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid [how could they TJ Euclidean geometry was never central to their culture (?!), besides, the Yaqui Way explains that not all of physical reality’s dimensions conform to Euclidean geometry and spacial relations…]; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous.” ((Supra.))

Other examples of racist scientific sophistry encompass Buffon’s classification schemes; Blumenbach’s phrenological conjectures; Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s contemporary and insular theory of the “tangle of family pathology” in which he argued that multigenerational, matrifocal familial arrangements (which are beautiful arrangements, and far more saner than patriarchal arrangements — it’s upsetting to know that in this culture matrifocality is radically attenuated and suppressed by incorrigible patriarchy) were responsible for Black economic problems.

The Tuskegee Experiments is another testament to science’s cruel, casuistic and unwavering racist logic. And so was the countless other physiognomical and anatomical reasoning applied during the 18th, 19th, and 20 centuries (read Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust for an incredible indictment for the depraved cruelty and horror made real by the mechanistic rationalistic instrumental scientific worldview: a Weltanschauung endemic to the dominant culture) to rationalize the slavery-inducing and social-engineering/controlling instrumentality over non-whites, underprivileged whites, social deviants, et al. — all borne in upon “scientific” thought, as mechanisms and means for productive ends (and, oh yeah, don’t forget about eugenics either… which still exists today in some places in the US [reconnoiter the program CRACK]).

What’s striking is that, while “enlightened” Europeans were expanding westward in the age of exploration, systematically murdering, with the steadfast intent to permanently remove the indigenous peoples of the “New” World, the occupying Europeans were routinely admonished by their victims that what they were doing was wrong — that they were all “brothers” and “sisters”; “all children of the earth,” lamented the natives. Such reproach was met with depraved indifference and the native population of North America was reduced by 98%. If there is any Holocaust being denied today that demands indemnification of the highest order btw, it’s the one through which the United States (and Canada too) ((The entire contingent of the West is, to a fair extent, complicit in the crimes against life on Earth. But since I am a citizen of the US, by virtue of my proximity and nationality, it is my obligation to decry US policies and the latter’s effects and implications first and foremost.)) was founded upon.

The same culture that carried out the most horrifically successful genocide in the history of human development is the same culture that conceived the religion of science to supersede the traditional, indigenous tenets of being-in-the-world. The native tribes of North America did not need an AAA peer-reviewed disquisition on whether or not biological race is real or contrived to “discover” that, in fact, all human beings are naturally equals. Such a belief was intrinsic to their worldview to begin with. Fancy that. It’s perplexing to ponder that after centuries of racist terror, endorsed by scientific/philosophical/cultural ideology and panegyrics, it took rigorous objective investigation and observation for the Western social sciences to eventually (re-)”discover” that: ‘whoa, hold up now – whites and nonwhites are not disparate races, but are, in fact, genetically, biologically and, ipso facto, socially equal.’ Whaddya know (?) Europeans are F’n geniuses (!) …so this all implies. This ‘logic’ is so ridiculous and insane, it’s mind numbing.

But even more unsettling is that, despite the Triple-A findings of ‘98, racism still exists today as severe as it always has. Robert Jensen wrote in The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege: “[The] third racist holocaust perpetrated by the United States…[is] the attack on the Third World to extend and solidify the US empire…” ((Q.v., Robert Jensen, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege, (San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2005), p. 35.)) and that, “The United States continues to pursue an economic and military policy abroad that offers as its underlying assumption a simple but quite bizarre assertion: The primary beneficiaries of the resources, both human and natural, of developing countries – that is, the countries of the ‘black and brown and yellow’ peoples of the world – should not be those people but corporations and wealthy investors in the United States.” ((Ibid., p. 63.))

If W.E.B. DuBois were alive today, he’d ridicule the US’s self-aggrandizing “triumphalism” regarding its conceited and erroneous claims to having “transcended racism.” What DuBois stated in The Souls of White Folk, an essay he scribed following WWI, still rings true today:

It is curious to see America, the United States, looking on herself, first, as a sort of natural peacemaker, then as a moral protagonist in this terrible time. No nation is less fitted for this role. For two or more centuries America has marched proudly in the van [sic] of human hatred…Instead of standing as a great example of the success of democracy and the possibility of human brotherhood America has taken her place as an awful example of its pitfalls and failures, so far as black and brown and yellow peoples are concerned. ((W.E.B. DuBois, Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil, (Mineola. N.Y.: Dover, 1999), p. 28. ))

I’ll adduce these words uttered by Lawrence Summers, Obama’s Chief Economic Advisor:

Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?…The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings of the increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that…I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted…Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

One more time: Science is the priesthood of industry worshipping the god of production in the house of economics.

I opine that science, as it has been and is practiced today is not a method of inquiry insofar as a method to rationalize the effects of an irrational system. Logic, as many famous mathematicians (driven mad) have made incontrovertibly clear (like e.g. Kurt Gödel), is not infallible– but rather, fundamentally flawed (e.g., the whole if-a-system-is-consistent-it’s-not-complete-therefore-the-consistency-of-propositions-can’t-be-proven-w/in-the-system thing). Sure we can do manipulations with numbers that assume each and every thing that they – numbers – correspond to is identical. But in the real world, nothing is identical.

And so what are the costs of teaching people that the world is made up of generalized objects to be manipulated, counted and exploited? One-plus-one does not equal two. If one were to die in an automobile accident along with a passenger, two people don’t die. An entire web of relationships is altered, an entire history goes too. This applies to everything the world is comprised of; ‘1’ or any other mathematical symbol denoting value does not and cannot accurately account for a web of relationships, personal history, propensities, proclivities, affinities, emotions and so on. Why? Because all these things are not fixed in space and time, not 3-D Cartesian coordinates, not static — they’re dynamically fluid, always in a state of flux. It becomes silly to invest everything in the assumption that numbers can and will reveal what’s possible, probable and necessary. The world already teaches us that without symbols through direct experience. I’m not saying that we should forgo these studies altogether – I appreciate science and mathematics as much as the next Snoot (myself being one heck of a Snoot) — but there is a level of responsibility one must bear out when deciding to embark upon enlightenment. In other words, the hidden abhorrent capability of numbers is that it is much easier to exploit and/or rub out a number than it is to do so to a living being whether it be hectares of forest for prefab homes; thousands of metric tons of bituminous coal to power microwaves, or to keep fridges cool for Mountain Dew and stuff; tons of sardines, blue fin and Atlantic salmon for the consumers’ diet; or fleets of disenfranchised immigrant workers, etc and c. And that’s the crux. It’s so damn important to remember that there is deadly danger in ascribing numbers to the lifeworld.

But and so given the breadth and scope of the impersonal, indifferent, heinous, precarious and pernicious tendencies of numbers and mathematics, one must ask: What are the implications of an entire economic system based on the presumption that the world is comprised of objects to be counted and used? What about an entire belief system — science?

Let’s be clear here. Math and science undoubtedly produce effects, but let us not mistake effects for truths lest we reduce what’s left of a living world to a spectrum of objects and forced-effects, synthesized by science and production, and lay total waste once and for all to an entire field of experience this planet affords us. Science, in many ways, is an investment in matter hedged by the fallacy of materialistic indemnity against invariable organic processes and ecological exigencies and adverse repercussions ricocheting against the thresholds of these limits in response to the hyper-exploitative behavior of this culture. This. Is. Not. Sustainable.

Science has had centuries to prove itself as neutral, as beneficial. It has yet to do so and time has run out. Our global climates are in irreversible change; our ecological infrastructure is irrevocably damaged; and life on this planet is vanishing faster than ever before. At this juncture in time we have to decide: science and technology? or an animate planet with intact ecosystems with all sorts of life and culture arising from unique places, each year becoming more diverse and enriched than the last? We can steward the latter into happening, if only we take on the responsibility.

Frank Smecker is a writer and social-worker from VT. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Frank, or visit Frank's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on June 8th, 2010 at 8:58am #

    There cannot be anything wrong with gathering knowledge, but a lot with splitting asunder the search for knowledge into technology and science.

    Search for knowledge cannot be dichotomized. It is the technology, removed from knowledge; while controled by a minority of people, which amounts to a great bane.

    Naturally, having lived in lawless societies for millnnia even search for knowledge had been controled by a minority of people; perhaps, only 001% of pop.
    And thus all this evil! tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on June 8th, 2010 at 9:51am #

    We went and did it this time didn’t we and only took us about 80 years. Very interesting thinking Frank.

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  3. MichaelKenny said on June 8th, 2010 at 11:14am #

    I don’t think the problem is sceince as such. The problem is materialism, of which what we call “science” is one manifestation. Materialism has been the predominant doctrine in the world since the American Revolution (which spawned the French Revolution, which spawned the Russian Revolution …) but is starting to fall from favour as science itself shows us that materialism has its limits. That, initially, has spawned wierd “anti-science”, such as creationism, particularly in the US, where many people are still remarkably superstitious. But the world is moving into the post-materialist age and that, with its emphasis on living in harmony with the natural order of the world, will probably cause science to cease to be “the priesthood of industry worshipping the god of production in the house of economics”, simply because industry, production and economics will cease to be gods. So I don’t think it will be a stark choice between materialist science and a new dark age.

  4. lamella said on June 8th, 2010 at 11:46am #

    What a load of crap. It’s as if the author is wearing polarized glasses that only allow him to see all the negative applications of scientific thought over the millennia. He doesn’t realize that science IS neutral, it’s humans that are biased and imperfect in their applications of it and so we end up with things like oil spills, eugenics, etc. Science, and its corollary technology, are at the simplest level manifestations of man’s innate drive to understand the world and improve his lot in life- not some sort of sociopathic control-freak desire to develop a master race and ruin the environment. Although, when science is used by the wrong people, it can easily serve that purpose.

    Scientific discoveries also cut across cultural barriers- antibiotics work just as well in Bangladesh as they would for the same infection in Texas. Suffice it to say without technological progress Mr. Smecker wouldn’t be able to share his 2 cent musings over the internet because he’d still be a hunter-gatherer. Now I realize that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is best for Mother Earth, but who today is really willing to give up modern accoutrements and go live that way? A show of hands please? That’s what I thought.

  5. bozh said on June 8th, 2010 at 2:27pm #

    Planting trees/fruit trees, crops, vegetables; hunting game/fish, weaving clothes, building abodes has a connection to our hunting gathering stage of life, but modern living is not living precrops growing or prepriestly rule era.

    So nobody suggest we live now as we did for eons prepriestly rule or pregrowing vegatables, fruit trees, and crops.

    I wear only two pair of pants, shoes; a few shirts, shorts. Don’t listen to radio. don’t by cds nor dvds. Don’ read papers nor see movies. I boil all my fish and meat. I eat lots of raw vegetables. I am not a bit ashamed of that.
    Actually, i am joyful because of that life style!
    And the ruling class wld never ever shame me for living ‘miserly’. If a person is shamed for not having shiny metals and debts because of it, well, that’s another matter.
    Oh dear lamella! I am desperately trying to please my wife and lamella, but i just can’t make it. Any advice out there ab what to do? I’l take even a bad one! tnx